A Rare Opportunity

This is part of series of posts by recipients of the 2020 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Zoe Moscovici, COL ’21

This summer, I worked with Dr. Amy Hillier of the School of Social Policy and Practice and
Weitzman School of Design to develop a mixed-method research protocol to learn about the
experiences of transgender highschoolers on their commute to high school. Our main goal is to
map the participant’s route with a heart-rate monitor to identify heart-rate spikes, in order to
identify common areas of fear or harassment. This data could be used by urban planning
centers to create more gender-friendly designs in the future. Our work primarily consisted of
literature reviews, technology logistics, GIS analysis, and ethical discussions.
The initial literature review helped us identify both qualitative and quantitative approaches that
other researchers have used on similar projects. We found that people have used a wide range
of strategies to understand spatial experiences, such as tracker apps, activity diaries,
auto-photography diaries, interviews, and heart rate monitors. From there, we decided which
methods were applicable to our protocol. We decided to use heart rate monitors, and create a
visual simulation to trigger the participants’ memory of locations where the monitors indicated
stress. We explored applications such as Google Maps Hyperlapse, Google Earth, and Google
Street View to choose the best visual representations for our study.

Next, we collected sample heart rate data with two different heart rate monitors. We used them for walks, hikes, and drives in order to evaluate which monitor was the most user-friendly. We also ran the data through ArcGIS analysis to see which heart rate monitor provided the best map with the least amount of file conversion. We ultimately chose “Wahoo” over “Polar.” And finally, we discussed the ethics of this research. The IRB considers transgender youth to be a vulnerable population, so we wanted to ensure that had high ethical standards for our interviews. We noted the proper language and pronouns preferred by the transgender
community, and looked into the history of research with transgender people. Literature on the subject suggested that we emphasize our research intentions to the participants to make them feel comfortable and informed about the study.

Although we were unable to implement the interviews this summer due to COVID-19, we set up the protocol so that it can be easily applied when appropriate. As an Urban Studies major, this was a great experience in both qualitative and quantitative research methods for my upcoming senior research project. This was also a rare opportunity to develop research skills in my niche field of interest: gender and sexuality. I’m very grateful for this summer position, and I hope that this research can be used to better support the safety and well-being of transgender youth.

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